Alcoholism Among Rural Older Adults: A Growing Problem

Written by Chris Clancy

As the opioid epidemic drags on, it can be all too easy to forget that alcohol use disorder (AUD), better known as alcoholism, remains a growing threat, especially for older adults living in rural areas.

As drug and alcohol abuse among celebrities, teens, young adults, and veterans has entered the public consciousness, alcoholism among rural older adults quietly reaches crisis levels. And because older adults are more likely to have other medical issues, both physical and mental, their need to enter rehab for drinking is more desperate than ever.

Older Adults Experience Spike in High-Risk Drinking, Alcoholism

A December 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that older adults are one of four demographic groups experiencing a large increase in alcoholism.

“Substantial increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and [alcoholism] constitute a public health crisis and portend increases in chronic disease comorbidities in the United States, especially among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

Data for the study was drawn from face-to-face interviews during two surveys of U.S. adults, conducted as part of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions—the first from 2001 to 2002 and the second from 2012 to 2013.

“I am especially concerned about the 106 percent increase in AUDs [alcohol use disorders] for older individuals because they are likely to carry multiple preexisting medical disorders that can be exacerbated by heavier drinking,” said Dr. Marc A. Schuckit, M.D., in an editorial commenting on the survey’s results. “These older drinkers are also likely to be taking multiple medications that can interact adversely with alcohol, with resulting significant and costly health consequences.”

Possible Reasons Behind the Rise of Alcoholism Among Older Adults

There is no one reason behind older adults’ growing alcoholism, though medical and sociological experts have some educated guesses. First, older adults often are dealing with significant life changes, changes like retirement from long-held jobs, children moving out of the house, and the loss of spouses. And because so many of these life changes involve endings, they often come with thoughts of mortality and the prospect of loneliness.

Combine one or more of these major life changes with a lifetime of significant social drinking, and very quickly a couple of drinks at the end of the day becomes a few drinks starting soon after lunch.

Rural Areas Are Fertile Ground for Unchecked Alcoholism

You may have noticed that one of the other groups the survey identified as seeing an increase in alcohol use is the socioeconomically disadvantaged. While not all rural areas are socioeconomically disadvantaged, the overlap is there. Rates of poverty are historically higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

But even among those who are gainfully employed, rural workers benefit less than their urban counterparts, and most new jobs are not in rural areas.

The overlap of rural adults and socioeconomic disadvantages notwithstanding, it’s a fact that older adults in rural areas have less access to public health services, putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to entering rehab for drinking. Related to this problem is a lack of transportation, since rural areas by and large lack of public transit. This makes attending support group meetings, finding peer support, or entering rehab for drinking that much harder.

Alcohol Treatment at JourneyPure at the River

If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic alcohol abuse problem, please contact us today at 615-907-5928. We offer residential programs to treat alcoholism, medically-assisted detox services, individual and group counseling. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready for you to get healthy and stay healthy.


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